Former men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart’s recent departure once again fueled the VCU coaching carousel as another coach left for the chance to thrive at a larger university.
Smart joins Jeff Capell (2002-06) and Anthony Grant (2006-09) as former VCU coaches to leave for bigger programs. For Grant and Capell, success has been hard to come by away from VCU.
Capell took the head coaching job at the University of Oklahoma after his four-year tenure with the Rams. Though his salary at VCU is unkown, Capell was offered a base salary of $1.7 million to coach the Sooners. Now an assistant coach at Duke University, Capell was fired by Oklahoma in 2011 with a mere record of 96-69 and 37-43 in Big-12 conference play.
Grant shared similar dismay, leaving VCU to coach Alabama University for six seasons. Grant compiled a total record of 117-85 and a SEC conference record of 54-49. The teams’ mediocre seasons left Grant jobless following the 2014-15 campaign. Grant was believed to be a candidate to return back to VCU, but the job instead went to former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach (2013-15) and Rams assistant coach (2009-13) Will Wade.
The men’s head basketball coaching job at VCU offers promise to any aspiring head coach, as Richmond is a well-known city despite not having a professional team. For a university without a football team, VCU puts more emphasis on basketball than most schools. Boosters, donors and fans pack the Stuart C. Siegel Center every game, as the 50-plus consecutive sellouts is evidence of the city’s passion for Rams basketball. VCU is the only school in the state to have been elected for the NCAA tournament five consecutive years. With all the success and support VCU has to offer, why is the head coaching job still being given up for other prospective programs?
Every college basketball head coach has the ambition to recruit and coach at the highest level. Though VCU’s brand is heavily acknowledged throughout the country, it is still not seen in the upper echelon of basketball programs. Atlantic 10 basketball is on the rise and will likely help the cause, but still has a ways to go to be a par with the perennial power conferences like the ACC, Big-12 and Pac-12.
For Smart, the opportunity to recruit and build a dynasty at Texas would be easier than at VCU. With that being said, Texas was the right decision for a coach that could never surpass the 2011 Final Four hype. After the Rams reached the Final Four, they have not made it past the round of 32 and have lost their round of 64 matchup three years in a row.
Smart was able to elevate the program to a national level, where Havoc is feared by every opponent VCU has faced. Unfortunately for Smart, the team’s recent plateau in the NCAA tournament was interfering with his team’s efficient play in the regular season. For a hot commodity like Smart, the decision to leave came at the perfect time.
Head coach Will Wade now has the challenge of forming a team that can be dominant in the postseason. Coming off of an A-10 championship, VCU has the potential to become the powerhouse in its conference, which every preseason A-10 coaches’ poll deems them to be.
Wade’s fast paced schematic play will resemble the likes of his predecessor, but stability will be key for Wade to accomplish a winning tradition at VCU. If Wade can take charge of the program from day one and create a dominant defensive team, the Rams will be a force to reckon with in the near future. Recruiting in the program will be elevated with the opening of the multi-million dollar practice facility in the fall which helps recruiting especially against the re-emerging University of Virginia program. VCU’s ability to reach the posteason will interest future recruits, as the Rams have built a winning reputation.
Syracuse University’s Jim Boeheim and Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski are the longest tenured college basketball coaches with 36 and 39 years at the same school, respectively. Their reputations are second to none in college basketball, as they have created dominant programs for their universities by staying with their respective teams.
Coach Wade has the chance to make his mark on the VCU community and create his own dynasty. Only 32, Wade’s ability to interact with his student-athletes on a person level will help the growth of the program and his own trademark. Wade is not a household name yet, but if VCU continues to win, Wade will illicit those “big school” job offers.
Only time will tell if Wade will be the man for the long run to coach the Rams into national supremacy. If not, his departure will be another heart-wrenching nostalgic moment us Ram fans have come to expect.